Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Luigi Speaks of Love

[Note: This post was written a week ago. I'm only posting now because I finally have an internet connection]

Fattoria Armonia, Calabria, Italy, 2014

I'm feeling pretty sad tonight. This will be a long-ish post, I think, so bear with me.

It was a long day of traveling in the Old Thunderous French Truck to Catanzaro. We had to go to the Olive Oil Guys and fill up 256 large metal canisters with oil (yes, I counted them, after transporting them multiple times—onto the truck, over to the oil holding tanks, back to the truck, then off the truck for storage). I was thinking of my cousin Kate, who has enviably sculpted arms. I was thinking this was the closest I'd get to doing the kind of “reps” she does. Once the canisters were full, it was a pretty good workout. If tomorrow I can lift my arms high enough to brush my teeth, it will be nothing short of a miracle.
Does Italy recognize a Patron Saint of aching biceps? If so, I should probably get on bended knees and start praying . .. that is, if my knees weren't also killing me.

Olive oil canisters in the Old Thunderous French Truck. 

Yesterday, I was moving the same giant pile of floorboards from the lumber mill to the Old Thunderous French Truck, then unloading from said truck, then stacking the wood with spacers to dry. Among other tasks. . .and then there was the olive harvest. Enjoy the oil, friends. It doesn't come easily.

So, pretty much everything hurts.

Well, not my earlobes, maybe.
They seem to be fine.
And my eyelashes. They don't hurt right now.
But pretty much everything else.

But I must say, the drive was beautiful, along the sea, past ruins from when this part of Italy was Magna Graecia. We're talking old.

The proprietor of this farm—I'll call him Luigi, though that's not his real name—and I have struggled since I arrived. Struggled a lot.
Really, really a lot.
If this had been my first WWOOF farm, I might have just bagged the whole trip rather than risking this kind of stress again. It's partly due to the language barrier, and partly due to your basic personality clash. I've considered leaving a number of times. I've also been giving my Italian parolaccia (swear words) a real work out . . . under my breath, usually.
But not always.

I've tried . . . really tried to find reasons to like him. I've tried to use this difficulty as my sadhana, my practice; a chance to look at myself and my own reactivity and try to figure out where it's coming from and what it's about.
A few times, it's worked all right. But mostly, I've just been pissed off. My stomach in knots.
OK. So I apparently have more work to do on that.
When I found out that today we'd have three hours together in a truck, I figured one of us would end up dead by day's end. Very possibly him.

But guess what?

Sometimes peace happens.

And sometimes the language barrier can be your Very Good Friend.
Here's how:
Luigi knows I've been unhappy. He's been unhappy with the situation, too. His wife,Viviane, has also seen this difficulty between us, though she and I get along swimmingly, in Italian and French.

So on this drive, Luigi begins to talk.
This time, it's mostly in the best English he can muster.
This has been one of the issues over this week—a refusal to either try to speak English (which he can do), or speak Italian (really, Calabrese dialect) at a rate of speed that I can even hope to comprehend.
But today, in the truck, he is speaking a mix of English and mostly standard Italian, more slowly than he has all week. He is telling me about himself, explaining himself, clearly troubled by the way things have gone between us.

I don't agree with some of his assumptions about things, or some of what he says about communication. I'm tempted to voice disagreement.

But I can't.

And here's where Language Barrier = Friend.
My points of disagreement are too complex to express with my level of Italian. And probably too complex for his level of English comprehension.
I have to just shut up and listen.
And accept.
And be cool with not explaining or justifying my position.

And it turns out that these differences aren't so important anyway. I listen closely, and find similarities in our worldview. We just have different ways of expressing that view.
I hear where there's common ground. Actually, lots of it.
Because it's not my native language, I've given up on trying to explain myself. With that giving up, I'm free to just listen, rather than plan what I'll say when his mouth stops moving (which it doesn't often do, by the way).

And you know what? Whether I agree with him or not, my sense is he just needs to be heard. He needs to express himself, and be heard.
Don't we all?

Olives, ready for processing by the Olive Oil Guys.

We arrive at the frantoio, olive mill, with the very kindly Olive Oil Guys, Donato and Nico, north of Catanzaro. That's where I work my ass off. Donato asks me questions, shows me around the place, explains their production processes in patient Italian. He gets me a macchiato when, after what feels like the millionth canister is hoisted onto the cart, he hears me sigh and say I need an espresso.

Later, while Donato and Luigi settle their bill, Nico shows me the just-produced greenish-gold oil coming out of the taps. He reaches into his lunch bag and gives me one of his two sandwiches and one of his beverages. Just gives it to me.
And it's tasty.
I like these Olive Oil Guys.

Olive oil, just centrifuged.

A few hours later, after the work is done, Luigi and I are back in the truck. The work has gone smoothly. He hasn't pissed me off today. . . .well, not much anyway. He's been more patient.
We stop on the way home to enjoy the mind-blowing scenery, to take a photo or two.

I peel some apples and oranges for him as he drives.
He shakes my hand and says “We make peace.”
I smile. So does he.

He lets me talk—in English when necessary—and listens better than he has in days. I could be wrong, but I think he's come to realize that he underestimated me, and he hasn't understood me as well as he assumed. And I've done the same.
I tell him about my former life in Vermont, of the community I had there, of the beauty of the place.
We talk about how far away humans have moved from the natural world of which they are a part, and what it's cost us.
We talk about trees and the energy within natural, unspoiled places.
We speak of love, for the world and for other people, and of its absolute necessity in all things; of the need for people to “make contact” with the earth and with each other.
Of children—the ones he has, and the ones I've chosen not to have, and why.
We talk about mafiosi, and about a certain emptiness in some people that no amount of money can ever fill; that only love can fill.
We talk about the bees and the honey he collects from them, and how work that is done with love makes a fine product.
We talk about terroir.

I feel good when we get home and we're unloading the truck. It's relaxed, and we're joking a bit—this has not happened with us before.
A new WWOOFer has arrived, from Estonia. She speaks not a word of Italian or English.
Luigi says, “For you and me, takes five days to make understanding. This one will take five years, I think.” He laughs. I'm hoping, for her sake and his, that once again the language barrier can prove to be a friend. But I don't know . . .

But here's why I'm sad. Why the day was a roller-coaster ride, anticipating awfulness, finding goodness, then awfulness coming again.

From my first day here, I've eaten most of my meals with a kitten on my lap. There are also grown cats, dogs, a horse, donkeys, sheep, pigs, chickens, roosters. Lots of animals.
But there are two friendly, affectionate kittens here.
Or, there were.
Tonight, there's only one.

"Speedy", on my lap. The last remaining kitten.

After unloading the olive oil, while Luigi moved the truck, one of the kittens ran underneath. We called for Luigi to stop, and he did. The kitten came back out from under. But, before we could grab it, it ran under again as Luigi pulled out.
And it got hit.
And Luigi didn't know, and kept driving to park the truck up the hill.
But me and the other WWOOFer saw it.
We saw the poor creature stunned and wobbling, contorted, as the truck rolled away. It was a horrible, sad sight.
I ran to the truck to tell Luigi to come quickly. I told him the kitten had been hit, but I was too upset to remember how to say in Italian, “It's suffering. We can't fix it. I need you to help me put it out of its misery. I can't do it alone.”

But it didn't matter.
By the time we got back down the hill, it had stopped moving and it was dead.
Luigi was upset; beside himself, as I was.
He picked up its limp body, muttering in Italian and English, trying to find a reason for this to have happened. Saying that if there hadn't been a third person to distract us, it wouldn't have happened.

I tell him he's wrong. We tried. The cat had a will of its own.
And what's the point now in imagining it differently, what we might have done?
We can't change it now.

“Luigi, there was nothing I could have done. Nothing you could have done.”

“I'm sad for this animal,” he says kneeling beside it, “I'm sad for you . . . and for Viviane and Rosanna, who love this cat.”
We're quiet for a moment, looking at this sleek, but now limp creature he's placed on a stone. I've never seen him looking this sad.

“The sun is going down quickly. Do you want me to dig a hole? I'll dig a hole,” I say.
“Yes,” he says quietly, in my native tongue.
“Dove?” [where], I say in his.
“Down,” he says simply, gesturing. I know where he means. Across the road, and down the hill, in the place where there are olive and orange trees and giant cactus, and clover everywhere.

It's getting dark. I'm digging the hole as tears stream down my cheeks. Luigi kisses the animal and sets it in the hole, and we cover it gently.
He says, “I love the animals. But sometimes, I think I shouldn't have them. It's hurts too much when they go . . . they run out in the road, or . . . ” he trails off, and even in the dark I can see him thumping his fist at his chest, his heart.
Luigi hears my sniffling, and this man I've considered strangling about 100 times this past week puts his arms around me, and kisses my head.

I'm thinking of this warm, soft little creature we've just covered, thinking now he'll feed the olives and the oranges, which will feed us so we might breathe, and our breath feed the trees.

It's a good day to make peace.
Always a good day to make peace in an uncertain world,
Where everything—everything—is breathing.
Until it's not.
Where everything that's breathing is burning.


And again.

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